Change is difficult. We live in an age that is changing faster than ever before in human history, and the release of ChatGPT last year showed us that we have not seen anything yet. We’d best buckle up.
When I talk to business leaders, they see generative AI as presenting a fundamental opportunity for their organizations, but also for individuals and for the broader economy.
Our recent AlixPartners Disruption Index (ADI) shows that investments in AI are CEOs’ single-highest digital priority over the coming year, but organizations still lag far behind in adoption. (Just 28% say AI is embedded across their organizations, according to the 2024 ADI.) There is also still a lot of fear from both leaders and employees, and the outstanding question remains: Will AI usher in a new golden age of productivity, or will it destroy jobs and displace work as we know it?
There is no doubt that generative AI — like other technologies before it, from the wheel to the plow to the personal computer, have done throughout human history — will transform the way we work, but there is no reason to be fearful. The truth is that while AI will undoubtedly change the way we work, the overall impact will likely be positive.
In fact, the CEOs with whom I talk are in the optimist camp. This is also reflected in our research: In the 2024 ADI, about two-thirds of CEOs tell us they see AI and other automation technologies as significant opportunities for their companies over the next 12 months.
The reality is that like other technological advancements, AI will create entirely new classes of jobs that have never existed before. For example, there are about 27 million web developers in the world today, an occupation that did not exist 30 years ago. Goldman Sachs estimates that about 85% of global job growth over the past 80 years has been through such technologically driven disruption.
Of course, the disruption from AI will impact different industries in different ways. It may, in fact, impact those of us in white-collar, knowledge industries more than others. This may accelerate already-existing trends, as economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve have reported declining wealth premiums from a higher education in the U.S.
Still, I believe that we will look back in a few years and recognize that the growth of AI has actually helped to unlock our human potential. Its ability to process data, make calculations and find patterns is beyond that of the human mind, but it is not, nor can it be, a replacement for human understanding of the world. As a result, the premium for our human awareness and judgment will increase, and AI can be a perfect complement to us (our co-pilot, if you will). Implemented properly, it can free humans for our best and highest uses.
A digitally empowered workforce — with AI at its center — is the future of most, if not all, industries. Already, generative AI is being used to increase the speed and accuracy of software deployment and testing, reducing errors and improving overall software quality. Generative AI has the potential to autocomplete up to 40% of code and translate plain English commands. For example, working with Microsoft
developed a proprietary chatbot which has reportedly improved developer productivity by 20% to 50%. We are also seeing generative AI being applied in customer-service functions, medical-imaging analysis and drug discovery, to name a few.
“AI can truly make things possible that could not be done before.”
But a focus solely on jobs and efficiency limits the vision of what AI can do. AI presents new opportunities to transform work processes and improve decision-making, leading to new growth and job creation.
AI can truly make things possible that could not be done before. Deeper insights into customer segmentation, allowing companies to target their marketing efforts more effectively, can drive customer acquisition and retention. Generative AI promises new levels of personalization — through everything from digital ads, loyalty programs and coupons — which will transform marketing management in consumer-facing industries.
Generative AI is also being used in drug discovery to help identify potential drug candidates and accelerate the drug-development process. One example is DiffDock, a molecular-docking model developed by MIT researchers, which might prove a model for accelerating the development of new drugs and increasing their potential safety.
DeepMind’s Graph Networks for Materials Exploration (GNoME), which is a deep-learning tool to help accelerate the discovery of new materials, has discovered 2.2 million new crystals, which could help power future technologies like solar cells, batteries, and computer chips.
AI will also change how decisions are made, allowing companies to draw smarter and more precise inferences from data — recognizing patterns in supply, operations and demand. Business forecasting and scenario analysis can also be improved through AI’s predictive-modeling capabilities.
By leveraging AI algorithms, organizations can dynamically adjust prices based on demand elasticity, market saturation and competitor pricing.
And in a world of escalating digital fraud and cyber criminality, AI’s capabilities for risk management and fraud detection may prove decisive.
A needed solution
The 2024 AlixPartners Disruption Index revealed that close to half of global business executives recognized the need to leverage technology for increased productivity and to overcome worker shortages and skills gaps.
If generative AI proves to be as much of a game changer as many (including myself) believe it can be, we may very well be on the cusp of a productivity boom. One study by researchers at Stanford and MIT found that generative AI boosted customer-service productivity by 14%.
For business leaders, preparing your organization — including your workforce — for these new technologies means moving deliberately in their implementation:
- Bring a clear eye to the business problem or opportunity that these technologies can unlock for your organization.
- Make the right investments in data to realize their economic potential.
- Put proper controls in place to protect your organization’s (and your clients’) proprietary data and to ensure appropriate governance.
- Invest in training your workforce on these new technologies to get the most from them, allowing your people to grow and fulfill their potential.
Technological advancement — and through it, increased productivity — is the only way we have to make our lives and those of our children better. Harnessing that potential responsibly and channeling its development in the right direction is one of the most critical tasks of business and government today.
Simon Freakley is CEO of consulting firm AlixPartners.